In October, members of the Proud Boys, a group that calls itself a “Western chauvinist” organization and that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group, were arrested in Manhattan following a violent brawl. While their nominal leader at the time, Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, gave a presentation inside the Metropolitan Republican Club, members of the group were captured on film punching, kicking, and stomping on anti-fascist protesters outside of the event. The “New York Nine” (10 members have now been arrested, actually) face rioting and attempted assault charges, though they say that they didn’t start the incident and that they’re not a hate group. To help defray the lawyer bills, they set up a legal defense fund. In a November video (in which he also quit the Proud Boys in order to take some heat off the organization), McInnes promoted the fund, sending viewers to the URL fundthewest.org, which redirects to the site 1776.shop. There, for $25 to $5,000, you can buy a charity bracelet that reads “Proud Boy” on the front with the hashtag “#NYC9” inscribed inside the band. Proceeds “will directly fund the NYC9,” the site says.
You can buy a whole lot more at 1776.shop, a freewheeling online emporium for far-right merch. There are T-shirts and hats with all manner of right-wing slogans, from lib-baiting (“Roger Stone did nothing wrong”) to fascistic (“Pinochet did nothing wrong”). There is Proud Boys gear in the “official” section of the site, as well as products from a host of third-party vendors, including Stone, the Donald Trump confidante and longtime political fixer who advertises 1776.shop on his Instagram account. One shirt sold by the vendor Green Dragon refashions the Proud Boys brand in the style of the punk band Bad Brains’ iconic self-titled album cover. The site’s Terms and Conditions page says that it’s a project of Fund the West LLC, a business registered in Miami by Henry Tarrio—who may be the same person as Enrique Tarrio, the current chairman of the Proud Boys who recently told the Daily Beast that he is the “business owner” of 1776.shop, and who wore the “Roger Stone did nothing wrong” shirt and a Proud Boys hat when he was photographed visiting Stone’s house after Stone’s recent arrest by the FBI. (Henry Tarrio is also the name on a business called Proudboys LLC, registered at the same address as Fund the West, and Enrique is the Spanish cognate of Henry.) While platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have stripped the Proud Boys of much of their online presence as the organization has racked up a reputation for violence, 1776, an e-commerce site that appears to support the group, remains functional.
Or, it did. Last week, the payment processing company Square pulled its service from 1776, a source close to the move confirmed to Slate, and while a spokeswoman said Square does not comment on individual accounts, she wrote in a statement, “Square does not tolerate our products or our platform being used for hate. When we determine accounts violate our terms of service, we take swift action.” JPMorgan Chase’s Chase Paymentech also previously provided payment processing services for the 1776.shop, and a source close to the decision confirmed it had stopped. By Tuesday of this week, the site had switched to a PayPal button. PayPal then yanked the account used on 1776.shop, a source close to the decision said—not the first time PayPal has pulled the plug on Proud Boys–affiliated accounts. As of publication, 1776 once again has a field for shoppers to enter a credit card number, but it’s unclear if it works or if any vendor is powering it.
When I asked for comment from the 1776 shop email and an email address listed on Henry Tarrio’s registration of Fund the West LLC, a respondent calling himself Jorge Perez wrote back, “There is absolutely nothing that I can tell you that will make the story you’re going to write NOT have a leftist bias. So type away. But I warn you … if there is an ounce of libel or slander our attorney is extremely gung ho and he is DYING to get to work. So do your homework …”
The ability to sell things and collect money online matters a lot to the Proud Boys—and it may be part of the reason they strenuously resist being called a “hate group,” a “white nationalist” group, or part of the “alt-right,” despite a history of Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic rhetoric from Proud Boy members and the organization’s founder. “Groups like the Proud Boys fight against the term hate group because it makes it much harder for them to mobilize resources online,” says Joan Donovan, the director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard who studies how hate groups mobilize online. “They know that if they get labeled as a hate group then online payment processers will not provide services.” And in fact, just this week, McInnes, who in 2017 made a video titled “10 Things I Hate About Jews,” filed a lawsuit against the SPLC for damages he says the organization caused by designating the Proud Boys a hate group. The suit accuses the SPLC of “concerted, obsessive and malicious actions taken to ‘deplatform’ ” McInnes, which has led to “tortious interference with his economic opportunities.” Among the purported harms: The suit says McInnes and the Proud Boys were banned from using PayPal to collect donations or sell merchandise online after the SPLC added the Proud Boys to its list of hate groups in February 2018.
While many far-right personalities and groups that promote hate and violence have either been kicked off or temporarily banned from social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter—Alex Jones being the most prominent example of this kind of deplatforming—many have been able to stay afloat thanks to personal donations, paid subscriptions to their websites and podcasts, and merchandise purchased by fans. This usually requires some way of collecting money, such as building an online store with payment processers.
Using a prebuilt option like Square or PayPal is most sensible for an online store built with a WordPress template like 1776.shop. Without that, you’d have to build your own payment system, which likely means working directly with a bank and figuring out security protocols, not to mention just making sure the system works. It would require a fair amount of expertise. Up to this point, far-right software engineers haven’t built a successful alternative to Square and PayPal the way they have tried for Twitter, YouTube, and other prominent internet platforms. When the crowdfunding site Patreon canceled the accounts of several far-right figures, including Milo Yiannopoulos, in December, those users couldn’t switch to an alternative like Hatreon because that service, created by the pro-gun activist Cody Wilson, was suspended by Visa in November 2017 and remains inactive.
Ever since the 2017 Unite the Right Rally that brought hundreds of white supremacists and members of the alt-right to Charlottesville, Virginia—including some Proud Boys—technology platforms have been reconsidering their historically hands-off approach to controversial users. But unlike social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which host the pages of groups like the Proud Boys and their leaders, payment processers don’t host the stores—they just facilitate the movement of money. That makes services like Square, PayPal, or Chase Paymentech more reliant on outside reports that their payment systems are being used by groups that the companies may have a policy against servicing. “E-commerce services generally don’t host the content on their page,” says Donovan. “They don’t actually see what these creators are doing, and they don’t verify who the money goes to or if it’s applied to the things that are promised in the solicitation.” Square, for example, can be adopted easily by an e-commerce store or a vendor but doesn’t handle that vendor’s wares. These companies often just don’t know how their payment services are being used.
In the case of 1776.shop, these payment processors had been servicing the operators of the main Proud Boys section of the shop as well as all manner of other vendors who used the platform. Now the Proud Boys may need a new way to sell their wares. If they can find one.